3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
The beginning of Cup of Evil: Corruption, Blackmail and Bodies Come to Light When a Sadistic Tycoon is Murdered (the full title according to Amazon, which I'll refer to as Cup of Evil and is surprisingly full of spoilers!) had me hooked. Zoe, the first main character introduced in the book, witnessed a conversation she shouldn't have and came out of it missing a shoe and with an injured foot. Her boyfriend, Garth, immediately interjected some humor by asking what happened to their pizza before asking what happened to her. To add to the suspense, before we can find out what actually happened the story jumps to the antagonists Beckman ("chief slumlord and tenement bigwig") and a lawyer named Lawton. Mayor Harris is trouble as well - despite being new to NY he quickly became mayor-elect after the death of his predecessor Mayor Hanks.
After a few chapters alternating between the protagonists Zoe and Garth and the antagonists Beckman and Lawton the plot is made clear - Zoe's father, Warren Erskine, recently died while trying to improve a six square block area in New York, NY that has decayed. Out of sheer spite, Beckman has been against him every step of the way. Garth, Zoe's boyfriend, had long been a partner of Warren's and between the two of them they're passionate about carrying out his project postmortem. Mayor-elect Harris is trouble too, stating that while Hanks was going to let them go forward with their project the promise of a better city and increased city revenue isn't enough for him. Harris wants $900,000 to cover the tax liens owed for the land before he'll consider any further work on it, something far outside their grasp.
There are a few twists in the story as well - Beckman and Lawton end up at a fundraiser for Zoe and Garth's project and while Beckman wanders around trying to stir up trouble and doubt Lawton ends up donating $10,000 to their cause. Not only is this a slap in the face to Beckman, Lawton says he'll double the amount if Zoe will go out to dinner with him the next evening. There are numerous additional plot twists in the book, but when all is said and done none were forced or felt cheap. Even the big twists were explained in a natural way that not only made sense, it was fitting of the characters involved.
Unfortunately, the worst part of the book is how it's being promoted. While the book promised "murder, mayhem and fate... in a world of graft and subterfuge", all of that feels like an intriguing base layer with loads of fluff on top of it. The first pages had me hooked, but from there it went downhill. Lawton's proposal to dinner was intriguing, as were the numerous levels of blackmail and threats that followed shortly after, but too much of the book was focused on random characters that people met with and really uninteresting day-to-day life. For the longest time I was keeping track of every character, assuming they'd be important later on, and while a few were the majority were never mentioned again or it didn't matter who they were anyway. Even now after reading the book and writing this review I have to look up Beckman's name every single time, something that should never be able to be said about the main antagonist in a story. It's also a bit confusing when the current mayor is Harris but the former mayor is Hanks and Harry is a guy who works with Lawton. Numerous characters are referred to by first or last name interchangeably, such as Lawton who is referred to as Josh for a great deal of the book.
That's not to say the cast of the book isn't good, however. Zoe is a powerful, driven woman whereas Lawton/Josh can be either casual or play the part of a rich, refined man who often uses a more extensive vocabulary. While I can't remember which word it is, there's even a funny scene when he uses a particular word with Harry that's brought up later on for even more laughs. Harry is probably my favorite, and while he didn't get much time in the book he somehow pulled off speaking like he came out of a mobster movie.
On the other end of the spectrum is Beckman (who I still have to look up to remember his name), a man who literally has no redeeming qualities and is as evil as they come. Despite being an absolutely horrible, despicable excuse of a human being he really wasn't much of an antagonist at all. In fact, that was my biggest issue with Cup of Evil - with as much scheming was going on and with such a huge project that had so much importance behind it, there was never anything that made me wonder how Zoe and Garth (another name I have to look up every time) would succeed once the first obstacles were cleared. Instead, it was like whack-a-mole - by the time an issue surfaced it was quickly knocked right back down.
One thing that really surprised me was how much of a shift there is in the middle. Part two of the book begins with a shocking revelation, and from there on out the shift of the book is entirely changed. However, just like the first half of the book, it fails to live up to its potential. I quickly went from "WHOA! WHAT?!" right back to uninterested. The book is categorized on Amazon in the "Mystery, Thriller & Suspense" category but it was like a mystery novel where everyone already knew what happened and who did it. Gathering evidence was still important, but for reasons I can't say it was nowhere near as important as it could have been.
Cup of Evil had a lot of potential, and if it wasn't for everything about the book screaming that it would be a tense mystery full of intrigue I probably would've enjoyed it more. The misleading (yet genuinely true) description and categorization were like having a movie or game hype me up for the most incredible experience of all time to find it merely okay - if it wasn't for the hype it could still be good, but the misguided excitement ends up making it less than it should be. Groat, the author, wrote some great scenes and it's clear she can write some fantastic books, it just felt like the plot itself could've used some work. I'd rate the book 2.5 stars if I could, but in hindsight I only disliked the book while taking notes about the numerous characters. I never disliked what I was reading and the pages flew by, even when I wasn't entirely interested in what was written on them. That's enough for me to round the score up to a 3 out of 4 star rating. If you're interested in a mostly laid back book with some interesting mystery here and there you'll most likely enjoy it like I did. However, if you're looking for a dark mystery that'll keep you on the edge of your seat, you'll definitely be disappointed.
Finally, it's worth mentioning: while there's (luckily!) minimal detail about it the book deals with human trafficking and the horrendous abuse (both physical and sexual) of children. I have a weak stomach and even I was fine with the way the author handled it, but if you're especially adverse to the idea - you have been warned!
Cup of Evil
View: on Bookshelves | on Smashwords
Like CataclysmicKnight's review? Post a comment saying so!